Balloch Country Park, Loch Lomond, Scotland
The monkey puzzle has to be one of the easiest trees to recognise. With the possible exception of a close relative, araucaria angustifolia sometimes known as the Brazilian monkey puzzle, there is no other tree like it on earth.
It is an evergreen conifer that can grow to 150 feet high and can live for 1000 years. Its branches reach out like protective tentacles covered in razor sharp leathery leaves, gently and gracefully reaching up to the light. Capable of inflicting painful lacerations we recommend wearing stout gloves, thick clothing and eye protection when moving trees.
The monkey puzzle tree grows readily from seed but is very slow to grow and can take 30 years to reach maturity and produce seed.
It has proved to be very adaptable to different soil types, tolerant of both hot and cold weather and also coastal situations. They can survive the cold down to at least -20°C. They seem to thrive in Scotland, including the often harsh weather on the west coast where many other trees struggle.
Benmore garden near Dunoon, is a good example of this with several tall, mature trees inside and outside the gardens’ perimeter. More recently, a few years ago a conservation project by the RBGS planted about 100 trees there. They are dotted about the hillside at the far end of these amazing gardens and although the tallest is still only 15 feet high they already form a spectacular sight.
Benmore Botanic Garden, Dunoon, Argyll. Scotland
Another close relative, Araucaria angustifolia, also survived and shares many of the characteristics of Araucaria araucana. It’s known as the Brazilian pine tree, the Brazilian monkey puzzle tree and the candelabra tree. Again it survived only in the southern hemisphere and was native, clearly, to Brazil.
Brazilian Pine or Brazilian Monkey Puzzle Trees
Interestingly, another genus, from the Araucariaceae family, Wollemi was thought to be extinct but in 1994 was discovered growing by a National Parks and Wildlife officer in a rainforest gorge in the Blue Mountains northwest of Sydney, Australia. His name was David Noble which is why the species is now known as wollemia nobilis. It’s also called the wollemi pine.
Image by New South Wales National Parks and Wildlife Service
During the Australian summer of 2019 - 2020, the bushfire season, the wollemi pine was nearly wiped out by extensive and ferocious fires. The Gospers mountain fire, in the Wollemi National Park was the largest fire ever recorded in Australia destroying over 500,000 hectares. But due to heroic efforts from firefighters the Wollemi Pine was saved.
Photo: Terrey Hills Rural Fire Brigade